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The original submitted to the university in July 25, 2002
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ATTENTION: Since this paper has been written as the class paper, it may not necessarily reflect the author's view point for the need to experiment different perspectives and theories as a student.

The Opening of the Port of Nagasaki: A Political Analysis


We know that there exist various types of interests, which can be narrowed down to material interest for financial and territorial resources, and ideological interests of pursuing one's religious and value-based motives and statutory achievements. However, there is one fundamental form of interest called political interest, without which the persuasion of neither material nor ideological interests can be successful. Political interest is the interest for political power, which gives strong ones the chance for domination, and for weak ones the chance for survival(1).

This paper tries to provide a political analysis of the opening of Nagasaki, projecting the modern concept of the balance of power as the basic framework. The opening of the port of Nagasaki and the donation of the entire port from Omura Sumitada to the Society of Jesus provides an excellent case study for political scientists, for it is the case in which the weak powers attempt to survive by forming a coalition. Pacheco Diego S.J. writes that the opening of the port of Nagasaki has been the "inevitable product of history."(2) The event itself has not been able to take place, if any elements such as the shaky grounds of Jesuits and Japanese Christians, political weakness of Omura Sumitada and geographical advantage of Nagasaki are lacking. Because both Omura and Jesuits are weak, they have had to shake hands with each other to balance against the fierce enemies surrounding them. Both Omura and Jesuits have material and ideological based self-interests, but before achieving any of these interests they need to survive and this leads to the opening of the port. This paper tries to explain the opening of the port of Nagasaki as the political event as we look at historical events and texts.

To explore the politics of the opening of Nagasaki, we will look at two aspects of the historical contexts. Following this introduction the attempt to describe the situation of Jesuits will take place, tracing the difficult and dangerous journey. It will also discuss the complexity of the politics of northern half of, which shows the survival of Omura has been at stake and needed to form alliance with Jesuits. Secondly, the geopolitical advantage of the Nagasaki will be discussed. Although concise studies of the politics of the opening of the port of Nagasaki has been published, the author is confident that this paper will provide basic arguments and summarize main points.

Painful Missions and Lurking Dangers

In this section, we try to see the necessity for Jesuits to open and acquire Nagasaki and why Omura needed to form partnership with Jesuits for his political problems, tracing the transitions of Japanese trade ports with Portuguese. Jesuits were not itself a political power, but their presence was useful for surrounding political actors as the tool to achieve interests. As a small and weak Sengoku daimyo, Omura Sumitada was surrounded by neighboring powers and his domestic consolidation of power was incomplete. This section looks at the transitions of Japanese-Portuguese trading ports focusing on Hirado and Yokoseura, where we can clearly observe purges on Jesuits as the result of Japanese politics and Omura's political weakness, which gave us the clear image of how the presence of Jesuits were politicized and then forced to move, and how Sumitada needed help. This section would tell that Nagasaki was opened as the safe heaven for Jesuit, Japanese Christians and Portuguese traders as well as for Omura Sumitada himself.

We must understand that Jesuits was a weak power and that mission in Kyushu was difficult and dangerous. Their presence in the ports attracted nao (Portuguese ships) and Chinese junk ships with Portuguese and their trade goods on board. Jesuits was welcomed by Sengoku Daimyo (feudal warlords) who understood the benefits of trade, but it did not secure their safety. Increasing kirisitan (Japanese Christian) polulation invoked the threat perception among Buddhist temples and court families, resulting series of persecutions. However, it would be a hasty conclusion to indicate the ideological conflict as the only source of persecutions. The persecutions were rather the result of the struggle for political power, in which Buddhist temples tried to secure their interests, and internal and external enemies of Christian-supporting feudal lords politicized the presence of Christians in order to replace the master and to create a cause for conquests. For these reasons Jesuits in Japan could not escape from the mechanics of domestic politics, having required to move constantly from ports to ports. Therefore, through the history of transitions of Japanese-Portuguese trade ports, we can trace how Jesuits were forced to move, as well as how the necessity for them to establish a secure ground for Christians in Japan to grow.

In the beginning, Matsura Takanobu of Hirado welcomed Jesuits padres, for "desire for foreign trade was the primary impulse which drove the Kyushu daimyo to welcome" Christianity(3). It was often thought that Matsura had been ambiguous in his policy toward Jesuits from the very beginning(4). However, padre Vilela's letter reported on how "lord (Matsura) was happy to receive" Vilela's arrival(5). Matsura even allowed the conversion of his cousin to Christianity and the increase of kirisitan population in his territory starting from the first arrival of Portuguese trade ship in 1550. Trade flourished in Hirado and Matura clearly welcomed Jesuits initially, having Portuguese trade ships to enter Hirado continuously from 1552 to 1561. Matsura allowed Christianity for his material interest, and his policy toward Jesuits did not seem ambiguous but rather supportive in the beginning, although he might not have welcomed Jesuits in his heart. Therefore, the change of Matsuraユs policy toward Jesuits, characterized by Matsura's expulsion of Vilela in 1558, must be seen as a gradual process, as Buddhist groups put pressures on Matsura. The letter of Vilela in 1559 told that Buddhist monks had caused the series of persecutions, and as the result Jesuits missionaries were forced to leave Hirado. Portuguese trade ships continued to enter Hirado until the incident in front of Miya in 1561, in which 14 Portuguese were killed. This incident was caused by the quarrels on the silk price and not necessarily related to anti-Christian sentiment, but since this incident Jesuit missionaries, especially its head Cosme de Torres, began to take initiatives of the foundation of ports in the interest of providing a safe ground for Christians. Both Jesuits and Portuguese merchants left Hirado, as Omura Sumitada and Torres made the agreement to open the port of Yokoseura.

The rise and fall of Yokoseura needs attention, because it reflects the political weakness of both Omura and Jesuits, which have brought them together. Omura has wanted to secure himself from his enemies outside and inside. Jesuits have needed a secure ground for Christianity to grow in Kyushu as well as to protect themselves. Interests of both sides have met in Yokoseura, and we can even say the way this port has been governed is an archetype of Nagasaki, for Yokoseura has been donated to Jesuits.

In 1562 the port of Yokoseura opened under the agreement between Omura and Torres, and as we could see from Omuraユs proposal to donate Yokoseura to Jesuits, Omura needed Jesuits to survive. When Torres dispatched Uchida Tome from Bungo to Omura before Torres started negotiation directly with Sumitada, Sumitada told Tome that "the port of Yokoseura will be given to Jesuits," and Portuguese trade ships did not have to pay tax for goods for ten years(6). We must notice that the tax would be free for only ten years, which shows that Omuraユs proposal did not mean to give up political control of Yokoseura. By doing this, Omura could establish close tie with Jesuits and trade relation with Portugal(7). As it will be discussed in detail in the next section, Omura was politically weak, surrounded by stronger enemies such as Otomo of Bungo, Ryuzoji of Saga and Matsura of Hirado. Securing the trade with Portugal would benefit Omura in this unfavorable environment, and Omura had a good reason to expect ammunition support from Portuguese ships, as he later borrowed guns from Portuguese in the defense of the port of Fukuda facing Matsura's attack in 1565 and 1566(8).

Nevertheless, more problematic for Omura was his enemies inside his own family. Omura Sumitada was the son of Arima Haruzumi, and not the direct hair to the former lord of Omura. The actual son of the former lord Omura Sumisaki was the bastard Takaaki, whose status was replaced by Sumitada and being adapted to the house of Goto. Therefore, even after Sumitada succeeded the house of Omura, he could not maintain domestic integrity at all; the house was split in two, of ones who supported Sumitada and ones who wanted to replace Sumitada by calling Takaaki back after a coup(9). Becoming the partner of Jesuits and converting himself to Christianity was necessary for Sumitada to survive.

The coup started in august 1563, only one and half year after the port of Yokoseura opened. The conversion of Sumitada angered Buddhist temples as well as conservative groups in the house of Omura. Frois wrote that "This rich flow in the work of conversion bothered the Enemy, and he feared what he had to expect for the future. And therefore he secretly stirred in the hearts of some close relatives of Dom Bartholomeo a dangerous conspiracy against him and the Padres."(10) Sumitada's enemy Goto Takaaki, leading traitors of the house of Omura, seized the town of Omura and invaded Sumitada's territories including Yokoseura. In this coup, neighboring daimyo might have been involved, as Diego suspected people from Hirado were the ones who had destroyed Yokoseura in the chaotic situation(11). Having been targeted by enemies from inside and outside, Sumitada had to hide and receive arms supports from Arima Haruzumi to regain his territory.

During the time period of the transition of trading ports from Hirado to Yokoseura, we could see the dynamics of how Jesuits needed a secure base for Christianity in Kyushu, how many political problems Omura was facing and how they were allied together for mutual interests and to balance against the security threat. Jesuits knew Sumitada needed the benefits brought by trade, and Sumitada was well aware that Jesuits needed Omura. Although Yokoseura was destroyed, they now understood that better and secure port was needed.

The Opening of the Port of Nagasaki

This part explores why Nagasaki has been chosen for its geopolitical significance and why it has been given to Jesuits in 1580 due to the political turmoil of Kyushu. The geography of Nagasaki is advantageous for defense to protect Jesuits and Christians. The port has been given to Jesuits later, for there is now urgent need for Sumitada to secure his shelter due to the changing political environment which has threatened him.

The port of Nagasaki was chosen as the final Japanese-Portuguese trading ports for geopolitical reasons which Jesuits had learned from experiencing several ports after Hirado. After Jesuits left Hirado, missionaries moved trading ports from Yokoseura to Fukuda, Fukuda to Kuchinotsu and Kuchinotsu to Nagasaki. Except Nagasaki, three other ports had serious geographical problems. Yokoseura, as we had seen it possibly destroyed by people of Hirado, was too close to one of the enemies of Omura, Matsura Takanobu. After Yokoseura was destroyed, Jesuits chose Fukuda which was located in the southern territory of Omura. Fukuda, unlike Yokoseura, was far away from Hirado and it seemed to serve defense purpose. However, Fukuda was still not a secure port. As the map of Nagasaki showed, the coastal line of Omura territory was quite complex, having bays which did not face sea of China. However, the port of Fukuda was facing the outer sea directly, and therefore it was vulnerable to the attack from the sea. In fact, Fukuda was attacked by Matsura navy in two consecutive years, 1565 and 1566, on which Frois commented: "the port of Fukuda was not appropriate for the ships were put in various dangers."(12) Kuchinotsu in Arima territory was used for brief period of time after Fukuda had been abandoned in 1567, but Jesuits decided to remain the trading port within Omura's boundary, since Sumitada would provide better supports on the missionary activity. Portuguese trade ships arrived in Kuchinotsu occasionally, but the center of trade activity as well as Christian missions had moved to the new port of Nagasaki.

Geographically, Nagasaki was a perfect location to build a new trading port. It was far from Matsura and Ryuzoji, and did not face the outer sea. Furthermore, most part of the town of Nagasaki was build up on the cape but not on the flat land, which made invasion from sea difficult(13). Since Nagasaki was surrounded by hills and mountains, ships could be protected from typhoons and also the attack from the land could be prevented to some extent. Konpira mountain stood near, from which one could observe enemy's movements of both land and sea. For Jesuits, Nagasaki had access to Amakusa island, which was the another important location for Christian mission in Kyushu as well as another kirishitan daimyo Arima Harunobu. By building a fortified Christian town in Nagasaki, Jesuits wished to provide a safe heaven of Japanese Christians who were suppressed and in exile.

However, the fact that Nagasaki was a fortress city could not guarantee the perfect security. Nagasaki was surrounded and attacked repeatedly in early 1570s' by Sumitadaユs enemies in the same peninsula, namely Goto, Isahaya, Saigo and Fukahori. More importantly, power of Ryuzoji Takanobu in Saga was growing rapidly and Omura thought sooner or later Nagasaki would be targeted and attacked. Ryuzoji, wishing to establish the regional hegemony in Hizen (Northern Kyushu), was allied with Mori Motonari of Yamaguchi, forced to write Matsura and Arima the oath of obedience, and contained Otomo Sorin, another great power in Kyushu, with the chain of his alliances. The donation of Nagasaki from Omura Sumitada to Jesuits in 1580 could not be understood without looking at this political context of Northern Kyushu.

Through the donation of Nagasaki, Omura hoped to create safe heaven for himself. What Sumitada had in mind was Ryuzoji. Visitor Valignano wrote in the letter: "The first - he said - was because I greatly fear that Ryuzoji will ask me for this harbor, for he craves it mightily."(14) Although the conflicting historical text, the Secret Record of the House of Omura, which was written in later period told different story that Sumitada gave Nagasaki to Jesuits as the payment for his debts, Valignanoユs account was far more credible(15). Since Nagasaki would be the territory of Jesuits, protected by Portuguese nao, Omura predicted that Ryuzoji would not dare to attack the port. By donating Nagasaki, Omura hoped to secure his income from tax of trading activities, and to provide himself a place to take refuge in the case Ryuzoji had invaded Omura's land. For the Society of Jesus, which was always short of money, the extra income would be provided by the payment from Portuguese ships for porting in Jesuits' land(16). The donation of Nagasaki was nothing more than the result of politics.


We have seen the opening of the port of Nagasaki and its donation from the political perspective. The history of why Nagasaki was handed to Jesuits has been a series of power struggle. Omura, a weak and vulnerable sengoku daimyo, needs to secure his power through the prosperity of trade. Jesuits missionaries, who had the responsibility to nurture Christianity in Japan, need a place to protect kirisitan and their own lives. Their interests have met and formed an alliance to survive. The story is, so far, as simple as that.

However, there is one question which makes the study on Nagasaki interesting and complicates the whole story. Has Omura Sumitada acted only for his self-interests alone? Diego writes, "when his baptism became the great cause for revolts in his territory and about to lose everything, his faith did not shake." As mentioned in the introduction, there are two kinds of interests, which are material interests and ideological interests; and political scientists often see them as compatible values. To pursue material interests does not conflict with ideological interests and vise versa. There is nothing paradoxical to expect Sumitada to have both interests at the same time. This is why it must be emphasized that political interest is not identical with material and ideological interests, and needs to be distinguished as the superior with any other types of interests. Political interest is pursued to achieve one's other interests, since political power is the greatest mean to achieve anything. Therefore, the power struggle leading to the opening of the port of Nagasaki should be regarded as a different set of history from the history of the persuasion for material interests and ideological interests, although they are closely related to each other. Otherwise understanding the definition of concepts, we would soon fall into the hasty and simplified conclusion such as Sumitada only wished to achieve material interest, or that Jesuits was only interested in achieving their ideological aims. For me, it does not matter what sort of interest they have been hoping to achieve; everyone has both material and ideological interests at the same time in anyways. What I know for sure, is that Omura and Jesuits needed to acquire political power as much as they can to avoid their miserable end.


1. For a fine and precise definition of 'political power', please refer to Carl Schmitt, Concept of Political, Trans. George Schwab, Chicago: U. of Chicago Press. 1995. Back

2. パチェコ・ディエゴ「長崎を開いた人:コスメ・デ・トーレスの生涯」佐久間正 訳、中央出版社、1969年 p. 3. Back

3. Boxer, C. R., The Christian Century in Japan 1549-1650. Berkeley:U. of California Press, 1951. p. 95. Back

4. 長崎県教育委員会「大航海時代の長崎県:南蛮船来航の地を訪ねて」1988年 p. 34. Back

5. Translated by author, based on the Japanese translation cited in 外山幹夫「史料で読む長崎県の歴史」1993年p. 137 from ガスパル・ビレラ書簡、村上直次郎訳、柳谷武夫編「イエスズ会士日本通信」上 Back

6. A passage from Frois, Luis SJ, Die Geschichte Japans, Leipzig. 1926. pp.152-153. translated from German to Japanese and quated in 松田毅一「大村純忠伝」1978年 p.31. and translated from Japanese to English by the author. Back

7. As Diego notes, this proposal needs to be regarded to have arisen from Sumitada, since no Jesuits missionaries have entered Omura territory before 1562, and there have been only indirect contacts「長崎を開いた人」p. 96. Kirisitans were in fact active in Yokoseura before the incident in front of Miya, but they were sent secretly by Almeida to measure the depth of the sea of Yokoseura and the purpose was not on missionary activity 「大村純忠伝」p. 31. Back

8. 長崎県教育委員会「大航海時代の長崎県:南蛮船来航の地を訪ねて」1988年 p. 47. Back

9. Elison, George. Deus Destroyed: The Image of Christianity in Early Modern Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973. p. 90. Back

10. Frois, Luis SJ, Die Geschichte Japans, Leipzig. 1926. p.188. translated and cited in Deus Destroyed. P. 91. Back

11. Diego, p.161. Back

12. ルイス・フロイス「日本史5:キリシタン伝来のこころ」柳谷武夫訳1978年 p. 65. Back

13. 長崎県教育委員会「大航海時代の長崎県:南蛮船来航の地を訪ねて」1988年 p. 57. Back

14. Cited in Deus Destroyed, pp. 95-96. Back

15. The Secret Record of the House of Omura was written in the midst of Christian persecusions, and Matsuda gave detailed study that this conflicting historical text was written in order to give impression of evil Jesuits trying to influence politics with money. 松田毅一 p. 245. Back

16. Diego, p. 128. Back

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